Thursday, April 15

John Wayne and Johnny Weissmüller’s hideout in Acapulco


On the highest cliff on the Acapulco coast is a small hotel that preserves the essence of the golden years of Hollywood when artists, politicians, kings and princes spent their vacations in the port surrounded by glamor and swayed by the warm tropical breeze. Los Flamingos is an abode of palm trees and pink walls facing the Pacific that makes those who visit it travel back in time. The rooms, bar and pool, furnished by Michael van Beuren from the 1930s, remain the same places as Bette Davis, Orson Wells, Rita Hayworth, Cary Grant, Maureen O’Sullivan, Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power and a a large constellation of actors and actresses used as a courtyard for raids.

In 1954 the property was bought by actors Johnny Weissmüller, John Wayne, Fred McMurray and comedian Red Skelton, who created the perfect corner for those looking for privacy and long parties until dawn. Los Flamingos, “the hideaway of the Hollywood gang,” as its owners baptized it, has become one of the port’s historic hotels that has been open for the longest time without interruption. “Artists and celebrities made Acapulco their home away from home,” says Guadalupe Loaeza in the book Remember Acapulco. John and Jacqueline Kennedy honeymooned here and Frank Sinatra was also a regular on its beaches until well into the eighties. Between the forties and sixties Acapulco was the scene of more than 150 films, among them the Lady from shanghai, by Orson Welles; Tarzan and the Sirensby Robert Florey and The Young, scored by Luis Buñuel. All the artists and personalities of the time wanted to be seen in the hotels, terraces, restaurants and nightclubs of the Pearl of the Pacific.

Los Flamingos was the residence of American actor Johnny Weissmüller, famous for playing Tarzan.
Los Flamingos was the residence of American actor Johnny Weissmüller, famous for playing Tarzan.Monica Gonzalez / The Country

In front of the main terrace of Los Flamingos, a group of whales delight the few guests who stay in the bungalows. Like tourists, whales flee from colder places to enjoy the warm waters of Acapulco. Esteban Castañeda, manager of the restaurant and one of the people who knows every corner of the place best, has worked in this picturesque place for almost 50 years. He came to the reception when he was 16 years old looking for work. They gave him a broom and he started sweeping the garden and throwing out the trash. In 1980 he became a manager. Castañeda says he should retire but later regrets. “I’m not good enough to be locked in my house,” he says with a smile. “Who knows Flamingos, falls in love and no longer leaves here”, sentence. Something like this happened to Johnny Weissmüller. The actor known for playing Tarzan in more than a dozen films – many of them shot in Acapulco – died at the hotel in 1984, at the age of 79. Two years earlier he had emigrated from Florida to settle in this privileged corner by the sea. His remains rest in the local Pantheon Valle de la Luz. “He was a very fine person, even though he was famous internationally, it was always simple. He did not deny a photo to anyone, ”recalls Castañeda.

Inside the property, but away from the rest of the rooms, he had a circular house built so that evil spirits would not invade his house, the House of Tarzan, as they call the place. From there you can see Pie de la Cuesta and the island of La Roqueta in the distance. “We have fewer visitors than we would like, but we are pulling”, says Castañeda and adds, “in these years we have stopped receiving a lot of foreign tourism. You know that bad news flies faster than good news and the wave of insecurity hit us a lot ”. Since the war against drug trafficking began in 2006, Acapulco saw the number of visitors cut in half and now suffers the onslaught of the pandemic.

Esteban Castañeda knows the hotel like the back of his hand.  He has been working in Los Flamingos since he was 16 years old.
Esteban Castañeda knows the hotel like the back of his hand. He has been working in Los Flamingos since he was 16 years old.Monica Gonzalez / The Country

Time passes slowly in Flamingos, the receptionist quenches the heat thanks to a fan that moves the air a little and two workers clean one of the rooms. The property passed into the hands of Adolfo Santiago, a hotel worker, who decided to keep the flavor of the place intact. The lobby houses a kind of makeshift museum with photos from the hotel’s golden age and portraits of honorable guests. “Everyone has passed through here. From President Miguel Alemán, María Félix, Tin Tan and Plácido Domingo ”, says Castañeda.

Los Ángeles Azules is playing in the restaurant and Esteban Castañeda wipes his sweat with a handkerchief. “Do you know that the famous cocktail called Coco Loco was created here?” He says like someone who drops a hook. He has the perfect technique for making customers sting. A bit of history, a bit of lip service, a freshly cut coconut and five different liqueurs. “The secret ingredient I’m not telling you,” adds mischievous. The manager moves around the restaurant like a ship’s captain would and looks out to sea, prey to the love obsession that the beauty of the place provokes. “You see this beauty and forget the pandemic a bit, don’t you think?” Like a seductive mermaid, Acapulco enchants those who observe her with the crystal of her golden years. Anchored in time, Los Flamingos still retains its charm.

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